There are so many ways to approach advent calendars. My favorite is to use it to plan things I wanted to do anyway. I’ll admit, though. This can make for a busy season fast.
So, what about those of us who prefer a quiet, reflective season? Well, use your advent calendar as a reminder to slow down instead of to speed up. I love these “simple” advent calendars because they take the commercialization out of it and make it about… well, anything you want to make it about.
For the purpose of this website, though, it’s all about the kids and family. Here I have a list of 24 family-focused, memory-making activities. I’m sure you’ll treasure the results.
- Sit by the candlelight. Background story: I was talking to one of my friends in Germany and she mentioned her favorite memories from growing up. In her family, which happens frequently in Germany, they use real candles on their Christmas tree. They would light the candles and enjoy each other’s company. We might not feel comfortable with real candles on a tree in the US (I’m not even sure if they sell the clips to do that here), but we can turn on our tree’s lights and lights candles in a room and enjoy it.
- Lay under the tree and look up. This is another tradition I learned from other people. In my family, we always had gifts under the tree so we couldn’t do that. If you hold off on putting gifts under the tree, though, you can gift your family with one of the coolest ways to see their tree. Make sure the lights are on!
- Make a thankful ornament. Don’t overthink it. Grab a sheet of paper and a pen. Write down what you’re thankful for, roll up the paper, tie a string around it, and hang it up. A simple, yet memorable ornament.
- Talk about Christmas pasts. Kids love hearing how their parents celebrated the holidays and parents love hearing what some of their kids favorite traditions are about. Pick a night to turn every distraction off, and have a conversation.
- Walk around the neighborhood. Yes, it’s colder than usual, but there’s something special about enjoying your neighborhood’s decorating efforts from the sidewalk instead of the car. You get to see the little details you might miss on a drive. Plus, you get to hear the hum of the lights.
- Make the Christingle. What’s a Christingle? <<Click to read more.<< Basically, use an orange, fruit, and nuts to create a candle. Now, this was never a tradition in my household growing up. However, living in Germany we’d celebrate Nicolaus Day. In our city that meant that Nicolaus walked around town handing out bags filled with an orange, fruit, and nuts to kids. I don’t know if the intention was to make the candle, or eat the treats, but either way… what a cool thing!
- Stroll around the city streets. Whether you live near a big city, or a small town with a nice main street, spend an early evening walking around. Many businesses will have fun decorations. One of my favorites that I saw recently was in Rock Hill, SC. The main street windows are painted with scenes made famous from a local artist, the guy who created Kellog’s Snap, Crackle, Pop for Rice Krispies.
- Hike in nature. My guess is most parks and nature areas don’t have holiday-specific decorations. That’s ok, though, because this is the natural decorations of the winter season. Completely customized to your local area. And it changes every day. Enjoy the crisp air and take a hike.
- Listen to Christmas music. There is one time a year Christmas music should be listened to and this is the season. Challenge yourself with finding new favorites by tuning in to a local radio station for several hours, or finding something on Spotify. Every year I discover a new music, and often the new music has been around for decades.
- Keep a family Christmas Journal. A few years ago I came across a cool memory journal. The idea was to attach your annual Christmas card on one side and answer some questions on the other side. The problem was that I don’t always do Christmas cards and it would drive me crazy to have some blank years. And so it’s a Christmas Journal. Take a photo of the family in front of something holiday-y (your tree, decorations, or one one of your outings listed above), print it out, and answer the questions. (Here’s a free and simple download I created for your own Christmas Journal.)
- Enjoy a hot drink with some Christmas cookies. Maybe you love making cookies and this is a great activity for you. Or maybe you don’t and this stresses you out a little. Don’t let. Just go to the closest grocery story, go to the bakery section, and pick up some nicely decorated treats. Then go home, make some coffee, hot tea, or hot chocolate, and enjoy the taste of someone else’s hard work with your family.
- Play a board game or learn a new card game. There are plenty of Christmas-themed games available these days. You don’t need those. Just play a family-favorite or grab a deck of cards and learn a new game.
- Go bowling. Or if the weather permits, go miniature golfing. Do a fun activity outside of the house that isn’t directly related to Christmas. Doing something that the whole family will enjoy keeps in the spirit of the holidays while letting you take a break from the red and green.
- Put a puzzle together. If space allows, start this early in the season and allow the puzzle to be something the family comes back to frequently. While board games and card games usually mean there’s a sense of competition, this is a common goal for the whole family.
- Get crafty – part 1. Pull out your art supplies. Cut, draw, paint, and glue bits and pieces together to make cards for family members. Send them out or save them to deliver in person.
- Get crafty – part 2. Make some decorations for the home. My favorite is a “Merry Christmas” sign. Cut out each letter of the words and then string them together. It’s not perfect? Well, perfect! Or cut some snowflakes out of coffee filters.
- Hide the Christmas Pickle. Warning: the tradition of the Christmas Pickle may not be an actual, dating-back-many-centuries tradition. It may be completely made up. But, isn’t that where all traditions kind of start? Anyway, the idea is you get a pickle ornament, hide it in your tree, and the first person who finds it wins. Does it have to be a pickle ornament? No. But, the green ornaments are harder to find in a tree. And there you go – a new tradition.
- Hang mistletoe. And let what happens, happen.
- Learn about how Christmas is celebrated in another country. I love learning about other countries, so this is a natural fit for me. Every year pick a country and learn about how they celebrate the season. You can make this as simple as you want (read about it), or get somewhat complicated (recreate a popular holiday dish or craft), or make it fully immersive (go to the country). Don’t know where to start? Look at your own heritage and go from there. Here’s an awesome link to help.
- Jingle some bells. Or just make some music together. Gather instruments you have (bells, piano, or just your hands to clap) and sing your favorite carols. Alternate between songs that should be sung as loud as possible (be considerate of neighbors) and quieter favorites.
- Donate your time to a good cause. Pick an organization (or two) that you, as a family, want to volunteer with for the season. Call them to find out what you can do to help. For a large variety of ideas, check out this link for finding volunteer activities during the holidays.
- Make your own garland. Either make a paper chain garland or a very traditional popcorn garland and string it around the tree.
- Put on a family holiday show. Everyone in the family has their own talent and now is the time to showcase that talent. Take turns acting out scenes from favorite movies and plays, singing songs, dancing, baton twirling, or tae kwon do moves. This activity will change every year and is open to make it as big or small as your family sees fit.
- Read ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas. Prepare for the end of the advent calendar, and the beginning of Christmas Day with a reading of ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.
And there you have it – 24 amazing, yet simple and meaningful activities for your advent calendar.